Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the first results of USDA's Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, one year after he unveiled the plan at Michigan State University. In addition to providing specific goals and results of the many actions that USDA is taking to help farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners respond to and help mitigate climate change, Vilsack announced a new $72.3 million investment to boost carbon storage in healthy soils during a speech on climate at the Center for America Progress in Washington, DC.
"American farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners are global leaders in conserving rural America's natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Vilsack.
On April 23, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced USDA's 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture, a comprehensive set of voluntary programs and initiatives that is expected to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025 - about two percent of economy-wide emissions. The ten "building blocks" span a range of technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage, and generate clean renewable energy. USDA also supports global food security through in-country capacity building, basic and applied research, and support for improved market information, statistics and analysis.
Vilsack also announced a new investment, a targeted allocation of $72.3 million for conservation practices that advance the building block goals in areas such as soil health and nutrient stewardship through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Building Blocks plan estimates that the agriculture and forestry sectors can reduce up to 18 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 by promoting healthier soils nationwide. In fiscal year 2016, NRCS will invest approximately $300 million through EQIP for practices that have climate change benefits, such as nutrient management, on-farm energy improvements and forestry management plans. This funding is in addition to the more than $1.4 billion in EQIP funding that NRCS has invested since 2009 in climate beneficial conservation practices, working with landowners to meet their multiple objectives for improved operations and environmental outcomes.
NRCS is finalizing updates to make EQIP more responsive and flexible to the unique needs of farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in different parts of the country. The final rule responds to public input and makes permanent the changes tested under an interim final rule over the course of 2015. Forest landowners now have increased flexibility regarding implementation of their forest management plans and provisions related to how land transfers affect program participation are clarified.